Sunday, August 26, 2007

Butterfly Extravaganza

I spent the day in Adams and Scioto counties in southernmost Ohio with a nice bunch of folks. We were led by naturalist extraordinaire John Howard, who knows the area as well or better than anyone. Our mission? Great Purple Hairstreak. An exceptionally showy butterfly, the hairstreak's host plant is mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum, which is almost entirely confined to the Ohio River Valley in Ohio. There is only one old record from Ohio, although it must be down there somewhere. While we failed to find the hairstreak, we found thirty-nine species of butterflies in total, including many interesting ones. Included in the total were many Cloudless Sulphurs and Little Sulphurs, both immigrants from the south. Until today, I had seen only one Cloudless and no Littles this year.

Below are some shots taken today.

Pipevine Swallowtail. A challenge to get a good shot, as they are very jittery feeders and in constant motion. This one is nectaring on Field Thistle, Cirsium discolor, one of our native thistles and a real butterfly magnet.


An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, also drawn to the field thistle. Thistles are often regarded with loathing, thanks to the invasive Canada and Bull Thistles. The natives are anything but invasive, rather showy, and as attractive to butterflies as the milkweeds.

Buckeye. We saw a number of these today, and they are likely immigrants from the south. Buckeyes are incredibly territorial, shooting out after anything that flies near, from other butterflies of any species to wasps, bees, and even dragonflies. I don't know what they think they're going to do if they catch one of these.

Find of the day, without a doubt, was a colony of Hayhurst's Scallopwings. This is a male. It was a "life" butterfly for everyone, although John knew what it was right away. They are southerners, barely ranging into Ohio, although their host plant, Lamb's-quarters, Chenopodium album, is absolutely an abundant weed. Overall they are rare in Ohio.

Red-spotted Purples are one of our showiest butterflies, and we had quite a few today. Their hosts are trees in the Salicaceae: willows, aspens, cottonwoods, etc. This individual is old, showing significant tattering of the wings and faded colors.

Man, this was a tough one to get a photo of! We saw a number of these Checkered Whites, which are like Cabbage Whites but much more heavily adorned with dark markings. They hardly ever stay still though, and it's pretty easy to dismiss them as the ubiquitous Cabbage Whites from afar. This one stopped for about 2.7 seconds to grab nectar from Buttonweed, Diodia teres, an interesting little plants of dry open soils.

While not a butterfly, still a very cool lepidopteran. This is a "hummingbird moth", Hemaris thysbe or possibly diffinis. They are actually mimics of bumblebees, which is probably a pretty good deterent to keep things from trying to snap you up. This is also a rare moment of repose, as these moths are usually seen on the wing and can be hard to photograph.

Had to toss in this interesting botanical find. It's Raccoon-grape, Ampelopsis cordata; first time I've seen it in Ohio. We found a small colony on a rather weedy floodplain of the Ohio River, but it is native. Raccoon-grape has only been collected in six southernmost counties and seems to be rather the rarity. I'd be interested in learning more of it's status and distribution in Ohio.

Common Sootywing. We saw a number of these today, and at a distant glance they appear rather unremarkable. Get them close and in good light and sootywings are very showy; dark brown with the hind wings edges burnished with a coppery color.

Gray Hairstreak. We also had a number of these. Their underwings are a dove-gray, set off by brilliant orange-red spots. Most hairstreaks habitually rub their hindwings together when perched. Thus behavior is thought to be a ploy to direct potential predators' attention to the hindwing region, and if they make a grab for the butterfly, they may only end up with a bit of wing and the hairstreak can still make its escape. This one is feeding on Wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia.

For a skipper this was a real showstopper, and I wished I could have gotten a better photo. They were not cooperative, however. It is a Checkered Skipper, which is probably another immigrant from the south.

This is one of three species of fritillaries that we recorded today, a Variegated Fritillary. The others were Meadow and Great Spangled Fritillaries. Variegateds are yet another immigrant from the south, but we saw a pair in tandem, and a female laying eggs in violets. As the climate steadily warms, it will pay dividends to monitor butterflies and document northward range expansions. Of all the groups of animals, butterflies will likely be the fastest to respond to temperature changes and the easiest group to record range expansions.

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1 comment:

donaldthebirder said...

I have always seen checkered skippers in my yard. I see them often.